Stage work key to hon­ing Kids’ craft

Times Colonist - - Arts - MIKE DE­VLIN mde­vlin@times­colonist.com

ON STAGE

What: An Evening with Kevin McDon­ald fea­tur­ing Pa­per Street The­atre Where: The Metro Stu­dio The­atre, 1411 Quadra St. When: Sun­day, 8 p.m. Tick­ets: $20 at eventbrite.com

YouTube would have done won­ders for ’90s com­edy troupes such as the Kids in the Hall, whose 102 episodes of ab­sur­dist com­edy were pas­tiches of short seg­ments.

But it might also have ac­cel­er­ated their demise.

Kevin McDon­ald, who co­founded the Toronto en­sem­ble in 1984 with Bruce McCul­loch, Mark McKin­ney, Dave Fo­ley and Scott Thomp­son, is happy the Kids in the Hall found suc­cess pre­cisely when they did.

“[YouTube] would have sped up our suc­cess, but by the time we would have got­ten on a TV show, we would have had less stage chops,” McDon­ald said.

“For us, stage chops and act­ing tech­niques were very im­por­tant. The con­sen­sus in the troupe is that we were writ­ers first and per­form­ers sec­ond. I think we needed those years on stage. Had we not per­formed in front of a live au­di­ence, I think it would have hurt us in the long run.”

The Kids in the Hall were one of Canada’s top com­edy ex­ports in the late ’80s and early ’90s, de­spite some heavy com­pe­ti­tion. Cana­dian comics Mike My­ers and Jim Car­rey were box-of­fice draws at the time, while other Canuck comics such as Norm McDon­ald, Ryan Stiles and Colin Mochrie were gen­er­at­ing sub­stan­tial mo­men­tum as well.

Few could match the crit­i­cal ku­dos paid to the uniquely tal­ented quin­tet of comics, how­ever. Sat­ur­day Night Live cre­ator Lorne Michaels took a par­tic­u­lar lik­ing to them, and was in­stru­men­tal in get­ting them a deal with HBO in 1989. The Kids in the Hall se­ries also aired on CBS and CBC be­fore it wrapped in 1995.

McDon­ald has been busy on sev­eral fronts in the years since. In ad­di­tion to a string of live dates and in­struc­tional sketch-com­edy work­shops across North Amer­ica, which brings him to Vic­to­ria on Sun­day for a night of funny with Pa­per Street The­atre, he’s work­ing fever­ishly on his va­ri­ety-show pod­cast, Kevin McDon­ald’s Kevin McDon­ald Show.

He’s also wait­ing to hear if a show he pitched to CBC will be green­lit, and McDon­ald said he’s in talks with Com­edy Cen­tral about an­other TV show, this one based on his pop­u­lar pod­cast.

He does his best to prac­tise what he preaches, but the va­ri­ety of me­dia he is cre­at­ing fol­lows a sep­a­rate set of rules, re­quir­ing an ever-chang­ing sets of skills.

He ex­pects those who take his course or col­lab­o­rate with him on stage to be open to all ideas. “For all the rules I teach stu­dents, they change from sketch to sketch. Ev­ery sketch is dif­fer­ent, and a rule that ap­plies to one won’t ap­ply to the next, whereas 75 per cent of the rules that ap­ply to stand-up prob­a­bly ap­ply to all stand-up.”

McDon­ald ei­ther wrote or starred in sev­eral notable sketches (The King of Empty Prom­ises, My Pen!, Girl Drink Drunk) on The Kids in the Hall, but his re­sumé in­cludes more main­stream fare as well, par­tic­u­larly a long string of ap­pear­ances as a voice ac­tor for chil­dren’s car­toons. McDon­ald also had cameos in a pair of sem­i­nal sit­com episodes — the Se­in­feld “Fes­tivus” episode and the Friends “Third Nip­ple” episode — that have lived on.

Not ev­ery skit hit the mark in The Kids in the Hall, and McDon­ald is the first to ad­mit the troupe had its share of grow­ing pains. He teaches the spirit of per­se­ver­ance to his stu­dents, and the process of re­hearsal — a key to suc­cess­ful sketch com­edy, he said — was some­thing that greatly ben­e­fited the Kids in the Hall troupe.

“I re­al­ize some things were bad, and some­times I won­der why I thought they were funny to be­gin with,” he said. “But I’m so happy that we did it. Ev­ery­thing builds for the good. Even the one or two bad things we did builds to the seven or eight good things we did.”

The Kids in the Hall have re­turned to the stage for re­union tours in re­cent years, with no firm plans of of­fi­cially re­form­ing, ac­cord­ing to McDon­ald.

If aspir­ing comics learn any­thing from his ex­pe­ri­ences, hard work should be their No. 1 take­away, McDon­ald said. “You’ll get your lucky break once or twice a year, but it will be in­vis­i­ble to you if you aren’t ready for it. To be ready for it, you have to work all the time.”

SUB­MIT­TED

Kids in the Hall vet­eran Kevin McDOn­ald ap­pears at the Metro Stu­dio The­atre with Pa­per Street The­atre on Sun­day at 8 p.m.

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